My expectations of this MOOC, my view of the future of education

[1018 words]

(week 1 journal for the “What future for education?” MOOC)

First, here is the prompt from the MOOC (“What future for education?“):

Week 1 Journal Entry: Based on your experience as a learner, what do you think you will be able to get out of this course? And what ideas do you already have about the future of education?

As I think I made clear recently in my initial blog post, I believe in the value of dynamic, learner-centered, self-motivated and autonomous learning that employs dialogue and collaboration to extend and refine individual investigation and reflection. I value “learning for the sake of learning” — that is, engaging in discovery and idea formation because the content one is focusing on and/or the process of learning are fun. In my own life, that kind of learning looms much larger and has deeper resonance than learning for extrinsic motivations. To put it another way, the best learning (in my view) is self-motivated, driven by the learner’s curiosity, interest, and sense that the learning content/activity/context has relevance and meaning. In my case, learning for purely extrinsic rewards (grades, diplomas, certifications, financial rewards, reputation, advancement) is significantly less effective and far less enduring. Given my overarching attitude toward learning, I would say that this MOOC will offer me a lot.

Let me explain. I am interested in the future of education. I am very interested in learning theory. I believe that these topics are highly relevant for me — and, indeed, are relevant for any curious and thoughtful person working in higher education. In other words, my motivation for engaging with the themes of this MOOC is quite high.

To that, I would add that the specific questions asked and the seemingly connectivist modalities of this MOOC are likely to work very well for me, particularly if I am able to find a few student peers whose interests and enthusiasms resonate in some way with my own, folks with whom I can engage in productive dialogue and debate. I suspect that I’m likely to encounter others who, like me, draw a sharp distinction between learning and education and who would be willing to explore the complex relationship between the two. I hope that I’ll be able to have some lively exchanges about cognitive-sciences-informed learning as a driver of education in the future and perhaps even consider ways in which the enterprise of higher education, indeed, education in general, might be rethought to facilitate, guide and support learning, whether individual or collective, in a more effective and sustainable way.

As I think about the future of education, I am convinced that many stakeholders in the educational enterprise will need to rethink the basics of what they are doing. Why educate? To what end(s)? What does society need educational systems to do? Is education exclusively about creating competent workers? Is it exclusively about “learning for doing,” so to speak, or manufacturing, or performing needed services, etc.? Is it about “learning to be”?  Ought universities teach students to be lifelong autonomous learners? Should universities teach students to seek wisdom? Or help them learn how to balance their lives? Or exercise self-control? Or engage in deep reflection for spiritual and intellectual growth? Is it about filling brains with information?

To evoke another dimension… technology is potentially both a complicating factor and a highly effective pathway as we think about the future of education. That is, computer-mediated communication and digital tools do not constitute a solution per se. Indeed, blind or unthinking appeals to technology or imposing the use of specific apps or devices without good support or good justification are, as pedagogical choices, likely to create more problems than they solve. On the other hand, if education is understood as a process of supporting, connecting and guiding autonomous learners, then computer-mediated and digital communication, collaboration and information-sharing can potentially be affirmed as valid and valuable infrastructures and/or pathways of learning and education, if not an obligatory route. Where and how technology plays a role depends on the needs of learners, the context in which learning takes place, societal parameters, the quality of the match between the technology itself and the desired cognitive results and learning outcomes, and another multitude of factors.

To do a better job of facilitating learning and creating better experiences for learners, we need to increase our understanding of the cognitive processes involved and we need to assure that educational processes, educational pathways, educational tools and teaching strategies align with how learning actually works in the human brain. We need to be clearer and more explicit about the goal(s) of education. We need to employ approaches that support those goals. Let us ask questions of the educational enterprise at all levels. Is the main goal of primary or secondary or post-secondary education the socialization of human beings into into learning communities? Is education about the acquisition of skills and socialization into professional practices? Is it about teaching individuals to assume greater autonomy for their own educational achievement and greater effectiveness in living satisfying and ethical lives? Those are three very different kinds of learning that might properly belong to different levels or different types of education. What about continuing education “on the job” (i.e. job training, continuing vocational training). Should employee education  be limited to teaching workers to work more effectively or conform to employers’ procedures? Or might mindfulness, critical thinking, the scientific method, financial literacy and various other “life skills” also properly make up the education in the workplace? We talk about life-long learning, but what do we do to actually structure and implement extremely effective modes of learning throughout the life cycle of citizens in our various societies?

I do not have answers to those questions, although I have some intuitions about how we ought to think about them. At this point in my journey through this MOOC (a “preview” of week 1), I have begun formulating what I believe are pertinent questions about the future of education and I am pondering the relationship between “learning” and “education.” In my view, those results alone signal real promise as I begin to engage with this MOOC.

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